O’Melveny Worldwide

The American Lawyer: “None of This Happened by Accident”: How O’Melveny Built a Self-Sustaining Pipeline for Women Litigators

June 2, 2021

In this in-depth article, The American Lawyer details how O’Melveny became a magnet for women litigators and launch pad for aspiring female leaders through “a standing priority for diversity, deliberate platforming of their female attorneys and buy-in from a partnership that seems to realize that the actions taken by the firm aren’t just good from a moral standpoint, but from a financial one as well.”

“We have succeeded because this is something we have focused on for a long time,” Litigation Department co-chair Apalla Chopra told the publication. “Not only because it is consistent with our values, but also because it benefits our clients, gives us a market advantage and allows us to bring in the best talent. We have achieved sort of a critical mass that starts to build upon itself.” Fellow co-chair Rich Goetz added, “It takes a strong effort at the senior levels. If you don’t platform women you miss the competitive advantage.”

“I can only speak from our experience, but 20 or even 12 years ago, when the numbers were lower, it was hard to move the needle,” commented firm chair Brad Butwin, reflecting on the need for sustained effort to see results. “When you are recruiting people, they gravitate toward places where they are going to feel comfortable. They don’t want to be the only one or one of a handful. Until you start showing real progress, I think firms can get stuck. I’ll tell you from our experience many years ago, the change is gradual.” 

The American Lawyer noted that O’Melveny’s success is revealed in the numbers: women now represent a quarter of equity partners, up from 12% in 2011, and half of department heads, nearly half of the policy committee, and over 70% of US managing partners are diverse. “You have to be purposeful and tireless about it, and that takes time and attention,” Chopra said. Butwin added, “We trained, mentored, sponsored and promoted.”

While providing all attorneys opportunities for success should be standard operating procedure, fielding diverse teams that more accurately reflect society has proven to boost results in the courtroom, and with clients. “It has always been remarkable to me, especially in 2021, that you would ever go before a jury of your peers with nothing but a team of white men,” said Damali Taylor, a partner in the firm’s White Collar Defense and Corporate Investigations Practice who returned to O’Melveny after serving as a state and federal prosecutor. “You want to be able to speak to everyone.” Lisa Pensabene, chair of O’Melveny’s Life Sciences Litigation practice, agreed. “It just makes business sense. Being an advocate is about distilling complex issues into a narrative. A diverse team provides a lot of ways to connect. And we are starting to see that play out in today’s world. Success begets success.”

Read the full article here.